When the shovel blade cuts the ground, you feel something snap, something
stronger than the roots that try to block the burial.
That night you awake on the verge of sleep convinced you heard a snarling
animal running through the room.
Two nights later you dream a snake devours your rabbit as you look on impassively.
Shocked into action, you pry at its jaws, but the serpent has turned into
a Jethro Bodine-style lummox sitting stone solid, wide-eyed, oblivious to
Later you fling the snake into a swimming pool, kicking it down the ladder
each time it attempts to wriggle out, until finally you're convinced it's
drowned. But somehow the reptile has managed to drain the water dry instead.
You step back, take a breath, marvel at its ingenious tenacity, then with
a shake of the head accept the killer back into your home.
You interpret the dream as guilt over the time you whacked your rabbit for
wedging itself between the basement foundation and the plasterboard, forcing
you to cut a hole in the drywall to pull him out. Or the numerous occasions
you cursed the chewing machine for devastating one electrical cord after
But the message of the snake strikes deeper. Above the spot that holds the
rabbit's towel-wrapped body, a notion takes hold, an urge too bound to bone
and muscle to be termed an idea. Almost idly you begin aligning timbers
from a forgotten child's fallen treehouse into a path leading from the grave
at the foot of the woods to the crumbling burn barrel standing sentry at
the edge of your yard.
As the days pass your path growns more complex, lined with rocks chipped
from the frozen mud, carpeted with woodchips from an Irish landscaper. Somehow
you're not embarassed as you turn his grave into a shrine, according Binky
a respect in death unavailable in life. It's not so much the loss, you tell
yourself, but an effort to bury the ugliness of the moment when the first
shovelful of dirt darkened the fur he took such haughty pains to keep clean.
So you extend a second path at right angles to the first down the hill towards
your swamp, allowing you to creep up on frogs and owls in the night without
scattering the darkness with a flashlight--or to see if the deer will adhere
to the magnetism of your atonement, bypassing the thistle-laden field for
the ease of stamping question mark hoofprints into the soft, crumbled bark.
Even then you can't stop. You want to run the trail as far as the Grand
River, clambering over wind and wood and water, then finally burrowing underground,
where rabbits and snakes revel together in the fresh, damp smell of earth.
You want to tame this patch of nature with your reassuring doglegs and coils,
shaping it into a single wordless syllable against the inevitability of
When your friend the Whale rolls his eyes, grunting that you've turned your
fields into "a desperate, twisted miniature golf course," you're
pleased. You nod in approval, recalling the Mound Builders' Country Club
in Newark, Ohio, which preserves for traversal by legions of spiked shoes
and mechanized carts a skein of complicated prehistoric earthworks that
elsewhere in the city were scrubbed from memory by the bulldozer and the
Too bad your community couldn't grease the axle of your wheelbarrow with
specific songs for hauling soggy woodchips over the ruins of an abandoned
outbuilding, though if you'd undertaken anything more strenuous than toppling
a few withered Fuller's Teasels with the toe of your Avias, "Clearing
the Brush" from Rykodisc's Voices of the
Rainforest cd might have helped.
This beautifully produced aural equivalent of a coffee-table book documents
a day in the life of the Kaluli people of the New Guinea interior, from
first dawn trill of stirring birds to night canopy symphony of frogs and
insects. In between come songs of work and play, reminiscent of the straightforward
music of Zaire's Aka Pygmies, another close-to-the soil folk whose every
mundane task resonates with traditional symbolism and cosmology.
A one-of-a-kind, unclassifiable recording, Rainforest is partly ambient
soundscape, partly a collection of songs whose not so subtle purpose is
to chronicle a way of life which touches the environment only lightly even
as the Kaluli satisfy their every need through the forest. You could seek
a lesson here, but given our current romance with the warrior mentality,
it seems specious to suggest we're in the mood to learn from anyone weaker
In fact, this Mickey Hart-produced document is in danger of becoming a souvenir
of a receding past, as plows and bulldozers paw the ground in anticipation
of the bounties of world commerce. Should we pray for the protective founding
of the Papua New Guinea Southern Highlands Province Country Club? Mind if
we play through?
The proper antidote for sorrow and cynicism is Musical
Feast: Mrs. Pottinger's High Note and Gayfeet Label (Heartbeat cd).
Historical snapshot? Sure. But instead of poking dusty limbs from the cobwebs,
this collection from the golden and twilight years of rock steady sports
keenly honed, slicked up dancing shoes raring to cut deep impressions into
the surface of your brain.
Sound quality, culled from the original master tapes, is exquisite. In contrast
to the brittle edges of digital production, these recordings from the back
of the Tip-Top Record Shop at 37 Orange Street, Kingston, bask in the kitchen
table warmth of vacuum tube equipment technology. Sweet, fragile harmonies,
bouncing bass lines and taffy-pull organ phrases contribute to the atmosphere
of intimacy, but most of all label owner Sonia Pottinger's auteur's touch
provides the sense of an unwavering attention to meticulous, if not loving,
standards of quality.
All the hallmarks of a great pop collection are here: a novelty number worthy
of an idiot savant (The Gaylads "ABC Rock Steady"), uncredited
cover versions (appropriating both the Beatles and Nat King Cole), an early
duff ditty by a future star (Judy Mowatt's "I Shall Sing"), verses
to inspire (from Stranger Cole's "Let the Power Fall"), and flat
out scorchers like the Conqueror's "Look Pon You" and Ken Boothe's
"Say You." Whether you've heard these songs before or not, Mrs.
Pottinger's assures you won't forget them.
Someone call Oliver Sacks to the phone. First came the shock of Roy Lema's
springheeled Gaia. Now the thunderbolt of Touma
(Mango cd) makes Mory Kante the second artist this year to awaken
from the groggy tunnel of a succession of workmanlike releases to a blinding
daylight disc of vibrant tunes.
Providing a dose of pop L-DOPA is backing vocalist Djanka Diabate, who helps
thaw Mory, when, despite soaring melodies and an earnest delivery, the singer-bandleader
still waxes emotionally remote on "Mankene" and "Bankiero".
Cut after cut, in best '60s girl group style, Diabate adds enough angst
and enthusiasm to kick nearly-there electrosnappy arrangements well over
Touma owes more to American rock than any disc since Zani Diabate's
1986 homage to the dynamics of psychedelia. Though influences are plucked
from the usual confusion of West African currents and back drafts, the kit
drumming and guitar work are unmistakably metallic, especially on "Souma",
where Carlos Santana unleashes a guru goosing guest solo.
For the most part, the African-American fusion goes smoothly. Konte's precise
kora plucking blends remarkably well with the sequenced feel of the keyboards
and MIDI drums. But the latest trend toward tick-tock electronic snare hits,
which Touma dips into with cupped palms, flirts with obnoxious overkill.
Punks, as you recall, originally doubled drumbeats in service of sarcasm,
disco to point out the double-yellow line to liquor fogged revelers, rap
to ennunicate in-your-face lexical toughness. But what march tempo African
beat gains in dancefloor immediacy comes at the expense of the overall power
of the music.
African music's widespread appeal has been due in no small part to the rolling
complexity of polyrhythms, which drum machine ethics sweep aside like grease
pencil outlines around the figures in an impressionist painting. A nagging,
telltale heartbeat undermines the pleasures of a number of otherwise worthy
releases from Thomas Mapfumo's Chamunorwa to Loketo's Extra Ball.
Enough is too much.
Fortunately no military tattoos mar Timbila
by Eduardo Durao and Orquestra Durao, another GlobeStyle electrification
project updating a traditional genre with drum kit and electric bass. This
time the form is chopi, a native music of Mozambique centered around the
a buzzy, mbira-timbred xylophone called the mbila--or timbila in plural.
Some of Timbila's rhythms have an out-of-place Balinese feel, presumably
because the Indonesians who introduced metallophones to Africa left behind
a few song forms as well. This is most pronounced on "Ngono Utane Vuna
Kudima" (Come Help Me Cultivate the Ground), while a Mexican marimba
style dominates "Magueleguele", a discourse on the hygenic hazards
of communion with prostitutes.
As fusion, the experiment is less successful than Stella Chiweshe's Ambuya?
or the Ben Mandelson-produced Jali Roll, where modern rhythms section
sometimes drove, sometimes followed dazzling lead instruments. While "Chinguavilane'"s
electronic pulse creates a nice earth/sky dichotomy, Timbila generally lacks
a sense of synergistic interaction between old and new. But this slippage
in no way detracts as Durao's light, almost scat lead vocals join hands
with a Latin-sounding female chorus to encircle a thicket of rhythms as
dense as Sunday afternoon miniature golfers.
Loketo, Extra Ball (Shanachie
cd). Transcends the frenetic doldrums that hogtie a lot of zouk-inflected
soukous via genre-shattering excellence. Though the packaging oozes up-to-date
modernity, vocals are as close-knit rootsy as a reggae harmony trio, with
nods to Franco, mbaqanga, Arrow and even Les Tetes Brulees. Expressive as
the vocalists, with his bell-like vocabulary of shouts, shrieks, burrs,
and arpeggiated harmonies, Diblo Dibala constitutes a one-man guitar orchestra.
On an overcast day, Loketo's confections may threaten to dissipate into
vapor. But when the sun is high these Zaireans make popular wisdom seem
Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, Chamunorwa
(Mango cd). The edgy burst-transmissions of Mapfumo's early chimurenga
singles seemed to be culminating in an elder statesman's ease with international
success as of last year's Corruption. But nothing's taken for granted here.
Eschewing pop conventions from structure to sonics, he rebuilds from the
ground up on idiosyncratic foundations of texture, pulse, and, most of all,
an unforgettable voice. Mapfumo has become one of the most compelling singers
on the planet, propelling graceful, majestic chants with a focused shamanic
intensity that has nothing in common with the melodrama excess that passes
elsewhere for emotion. Chamunorwa is like a dash of clear water in a Coca-Cola
Annabouboula, Greek Fire (Shanachie
cd). The joy of last year's In The Baths of Constantinople was a
traditional-Greek/modern-mess epiphany more noisy collision than chance
encounter. This time around with the same chaotic potential in place, the
band opts for Euros over Eris, concocting bouncy but jolt-less dance music
whose central thrust jabs tongue in cheek. While II'd Rather Set Myself
on Fire" is a great song, irony or no, bending folk motifs to the will
of house rather than disrupting both genres is a cakewalk more befitting
an Aphrodite's Child than this band of Olympians. Hands on boulder, scale
Latino Latino--Music From the Streets of LA
(Rhythm Safari). Disregard the title. These aren't field recordings of street
corner buskers in the Original Music label mold but a studio tour of LA's
contribution to the spirit of salsa. That said, evidence that NY isn't the
axis mundi of Latino art rests with hep traditionalists Francisco Aguabella,
ghost-fingered jazzsters Bobby Matos and Heritage, and most convincingly
those bitten by the Big Sur bug. Louis Perez's "Rako" cultural
smoothee recalls a Cuban Huayacaltia in its suite ambitions, while Bongo
Logic, struck by sea spray, peppers the air with scads of trippy flute.
Jazayer plus Ali Jihad Racy (EarthBeat
cd). Gorgeous middle eastern instrumentals for zither, flute, strings and
hand drums by West Coast musicians aided by a Lebanese virtuoso. Filmi buffs
will appreciate the witty pieces by Egyptian cinema composer Mohammed Abdel
Wahab, taarab enthusiasts the cross-cultural opening medley, and Mustapha
heads the whole shebang. Ornate, even delicate, without falling through
the cracks between the floorboards.
Columns by CDs and Artists / Columns by Date
Columns by Subject / Page
of the Whale